Pete Sampras still remembers that summer night in Toronto nearly 24 years ago.
Before he was considered one of professional tennis’ all-time greats, before his eventual epic rivalry with Andre Agassi developed, before the collections of Grand Slam titles, Sampras was a 19-year-old kid trying to find his own footing on a court opposite a legend.
PowerShare Series Champions Challenge
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
Pete Sampras » Fourteen major singles titles during his career, including a record seven Wimbledon singles titles and five U.S. Open singles titles, including his career finale in 2002 against Andre Agassi. He also captured two Australian Open titles and 64 singles title overall. He helped the United States to Davis Cup titles in 1992 and 1995.
John McEnroe » Won seven major singles titles in his career along with 10 other majors in doubles and mixed doubles. He won the U.S. Open four times and Wimbledon three times, and helped the United States to the Davis Cup title five times. He captured 77 career singles titles and 78 career doubles titles, his last being in San Jose, Calif., in 2006 at the age of 47.
Jim Courier » Won a pair of French and Australian Open singles titles in the early 1990s when he became the first American to reach the No. 1 ranking since McEnroe in 1985. Courier was also the youngest player to reach all four major singles finals in a career when he reached the Wimbledon final in 1993 at age 22. He also guided the U.S. to Davis Cup titles in 1992 and 1995 and currently serves as the U.S. team captain.
James Blake » Ended his 14-year ATP career, which saw him win 10 singles titles and reach a career high ranking of No. 4, at the 2013 U.S. Open. Blake is best known for playing singles for the U.S. Davis Cup team in helping the United States win the 2007 title — the first win for a U.S. team since 1995.
The first time he faced John McEnroe, a star Sampras grew up studying and looking up to, the nerves crept in, but once the ball hit the racket, everything fell along the wayside. Sampras won the Rogers Cup quarterfinal 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.
On Tuesday, Sampras and McEnroe will again face off, but this time the two tennis greats are on the same tier. Both long retired, the pair — which has combined for 19 Wimbledon and U.S. Open men’s titles — will be featured in the PowerShare Series Champions Challenge at EnergySolutions Arena. The 12-city tennis circuit featuring tennis legends over the age of 30 stops in various cities around the country to play a one-night tournament featuring three matches.
The stopover in Utah starts at 7 p.m.
Former ATP stars James Blake and Jim Courier will also vie for a spot in Tuesday night’s final against the winner of Sampras and McEnroe.
The evening will be more of a spectacle for fans than an intensive series of matches between former stars, but Sampras, who will make his PowerShare Series debut in Salt Lake City, said he knows tennis brings out the best in each of the former greats.
"You put a racket and some tennis balls in our hand and we want to play well," he said. "There’s moments during the set that could be a bit on the lighter side. We’re not as intense as we used to be."
But McEnroe, at age 55, is taking it seriously. Which should be no surprise.
He nearly beat Andy Roddick in the final of the Birmingham stop of the tour, losing 7-5 to the former American star 24 years his junior.
"I sort of use my racket, to an extent, like a slingshot," said McEnroe after a recent tournament, "so I deflect someone else’s power and try and get [power] that way instead of using a lot of force that would have a tendency to beat up your body more. Otherwise, you’d have to train an incredible amount."
Sampras said Tuesday will be the first competitive match he’s played in roughly six months, adding he’s aiming to partake in three of these types of a tournaments a year. It just turns out Salt Lake is his first.
"We’re all in a good place where we can pick and choose what we want to do, and we’re lucky," Sampras said. "At the same time, it’s good for me personally. It keeps me in shape and I think there’s a market out there for some of us old-timers … or mid-timers."
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